Telling a story is a great way to connect with people when you talk about your images. It lets people know you care, you’re passionate, and there’s a person behind the pictures. But getting personal not only lets you bring yourself into the fold, it taps into fundamental aspects of human psychology. We’ll talk more about the reasons below, but the approach is simple. Emphasize details and stories, de-emphasize analysis. Paradoxically, the more you analyze why a picture works, the less people really care. Imagine:
“I took this picture with a low aperture lens to produce a beautiful, soft look, and I just managed to catch a bit of stylized flare on the edge by tilting the lens up. I knew the timing would be great, because I saw ahead of time that the couple was about to hug, so I positioned myself at a low angle to be ready.”
No, no, no! See what happens here? All that’s been discussed is the photographer’s skill level. The couple needs to use their left brain, the analytical side, to process this. It’s the left brain that wants to calculate everything and think things over, which is not where you want someone to be in a presentation. You want them feeling things:
“I remember how connected Jane and Steve were during the day and how happy they were to be together. There was so much anticipation. They had to stand apart during most of their ceremony, and this is their first private moment afterward.”
This is moving in the right direction. Now we’re getting people into the moment and feeling things. It’s tempting to worry that listeners won’t see the amount of skill put into the picture as a photographer, but it really won’t matter. If you say it right, a listener will feel the connection with the scene, which is even better. After all, if a person doesn’t think that flare is cool to begin with, telling them you put it in there doesn’t mean a whole lot to them. And if they do like flare, they’ll get it when they see it. But everyone gets it with stories.
Get even more mileage by using vivid details. It might seem like people won’t be interested in the little things, but it’s the opposite. Think of some of your favorite storytellers and how they talk. Probably lots of small details, right? Details are one of the hallmarks of great storytelling. The little things make a story more real and compelling, and it’s even been tested. In a simulated trial conducted by researchers and the University of Michigan, a jury was asked to determine whether a seven-year-old should remain in his mother’s care. In one trial, the arguments for the mother were made in great detail and the ones against her were done with little detail. In the other trial, it was the exact opposite.
In both cases, the details had no relevance on her ability to raise a child. For example, in once case, jurors were told “Mrs. Johnson sees to it that her child washes and brushes his teeth before bedtime.” In the other, it was added that “He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader.” In the case against her, people were told “The child went to school with a badly scraped arm which Mrs. Johnson had not cleaned or attended to. The school nurse had to clean the scrape.” The detailed form added that the nurse spilled a substance on herself while attending to the scrape, which turned her uniform red.
The researchers were careful to make all of the details irrelevant, yet, when the results came in, juries who heard the detailed version in favor of the mother gave her a 5.8 out of 10, while juries who heard the detailed version against her gave her a 4.3 out of 10. These results are striking – just by adding details, any details at all, we can paint a more vivid picture that registers more strongly. Working off our passage above, let’s extend it a little bit more:
“The weather was amazing, and Jane had put so much time into the decorations like the flowers. I remember how connected Jane and Steve were. They kept stealing glanced at each other the whole ceremony. There was so much anticipation. You could see they were excited to be together. When they walked out at the end of the ceremony, they held hands tightly right at sunset. This is their first private moment afterward.”
You could even go further by discussing the challenges involved in taking the picture. Notice that you’re still not analyzing, when you do so. You’re telling people a detailed story about what it was to be taking that picture, and now you’re layering in the process without being dry and technical. Adding details paints a bolder picture and connects people more powerfully. Use them to create stronger presentations and reach your clients at a more personal level. Play around. Have fun with it. What are some of the stories behind your pictures?